WILKES-BARRE — The head of the city police union started a 15-day unpaid suspension. Another officer was notified he faces 45 days off without pay and one of the K9 squad dogs was taken out of service for biting an officer and two other people.
Morale within the department was already low because of the contentious relationship between the Wilkes-Barre Police Benevolent Association and Chief Marcella Lendacky. It sunk further as a result of the recent disciplinary actions and Sgt. Phil Myers, president of the PBA, wondered if the biting dog would lead to yet another officer’s suspension.
Myers said he began a 15-day suspension Wednesday for an alleged violation last year. He declined to identify the other officer given notice of the pending suspension.
“We don’t believe he did anything wrong. We’re not exactly sure what he did wrong ,” Myers said Thursday.
More details should be available after the PBA files a grievance on behalf of the officer and subpoenas documents from the police administration, Myers said.
He is certain of one thing, however; the suspension will be costly.
“I would estimate it’s going to cost him over $10,000,” Myers said.
A message left late Thursday afternoon for the chief was not returned. Mayor Tony George, a former police chief who chose Lendacky to run the department, said the suspension was handled by the police administration.
George’s appointment of Lendacky as chief in March 2016 opened the divide between the union and his administration. In a 13-page letter at the time, the PBA raised its concerns to mayor and questioned her qualifications and leadership skills.
Over the past two years, the divide has widened as a result of the suspensions and dismissals, including the October firing of patrolman Dan Duffy, PBA vice president and former chief of the Scranton Police Department, for an alleged threat contained in an email to the mayor in defense of a union member.
Last week Myers and Duffy sued the city, the mayor, the chief and Commander Ron Foy in federal court, alleging retaliation against the union officials for bringing to light mismanagement of the department and that Lendacky altered reports in order to show a decrease in crime.
Amidst all the turmoil, the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association has been quietly going about its business conducting a departmental assessment. The Harrisburg-based PCPA was hired in November at a cost of $26,212 after city council, alarmed at the growing discord in the department, approved an independent review with the aim of providing recommendations to resolve the problems.
The PCPA has interviewed officers and members of the police administration, Myers said. “It seems like their doing a really good job, thorough job,” Myers said.
The review that began in December is expected to take 10 weeks.
There was no time frame for the reactivating, Chase, the K9 dog, the mayor said. The dog was not on duty because of a public safety concern, he said.
“He bit three people,” the mayor said.
“It’s not the training,” the mayor said of what the problem with the dog is.
“They’re doing an investigation of the officers involved,” the mayor added.
Myers expressed surprise at the mayor’s comments.
“They have not given the K9 officer a reason,” Myers said.
The incident involving the officer getting bit happened in late December and the K9 officer and Chase worked until the beginning of this month, Myers said. Last week, the mayor ordered that the dog be kept home, Myers said.
The dog’s former trainer Paul Price, owner of North East Police K-9 Academy LLC of Wilkes-Barre Township, also was surprised that no one from the mayor’s office or police administration contacted him about taking Chase off the street. The Belgian Malinois has been with the department about a year and a half.
“I would love to have spoken to the officers. I was their trainer. I thought I would have been asked, but I was not,” Price said.
“I had no issues with dog,” Price said. A dog is always being trained, but K9 officer Joseph Homza has not been able to make training sessions because of manpower issues, Price said.
Price said he notified the city by email about a week and half ago that he resigned as the trainer for the K9 dogs.
“I can’t train people that aren’t there,” Price said. “It’s better off that they find somebody else.”
Chase, one of two dogs on the Wilkes-Barre Police Department K9 unit, was taken off the street after biting three people, including a police officer, Mayor Tony George said.